Archive for the ‘travels’ Category

back again

Ah, well, it’s been a month or two, and we are finally home—recovering from the haze of holiday travel and reclaiming our house from the plants and cats, who ran wild while we were gone. I transformed my desk into a staging area for the plants that would need to be watered most in our absence; I’ve only just removed the last geranium and swept away the dirt and dried-up petals. It seems like quite a metaphor for trying to get back to work—though strangely, overwhelmingly literal. Kind of like this:



The bookends of our holiday travel—Ricky’s hometown, famous for The Real Housewives of NJ—and the trailer, one of my ancestral homes. It was quite a leap: from snow and Broadway and Garden State Plaza; diner pancakes, endless traffic jams, and a Japanese grocery store (I think I accidentally ate some fish)—to sand roads, key lime pie, spanish moss, orange trees on the canals, manatees, and the $3 pair of sparkly blue flip flops I had to buy in order to supplement my travel wardrobe.



It’s good to be home. There are currently very few picturesque corners in our house; we’re digging out from under piles of geranium leaves, unwanted catalogs, and dirty laundry. Sometimes having so much space just seems unwieldy—though, of course, smaller spaces (as in the trailer) have their own limitations.

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I love this strangely boring picture that I took of North Castle Street in Edinburgh. I noticed that the sky was doing strange things at the very end of sunset and ran down from our rented flat with Ricky’s camera (which he sort of lost for a while, which is why I’ve only recently been reunited with these shots and others of cauliflower tureens).

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day 13

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh; a brief post with a bit of blue sky (which we are sorely lacking). I stared at a thimble for a while today and tried to come up with something to say about it. That sounds like it could be a metaphor, but it’s not. Instead of a thimble, you get the rooms where Mary, Queen of Scots watched the murder of her private secretary. Tourists in later centuries claimed that they could still see the bloodstains on the floors. I could not. I did see, however, a number of rather random Mary, Queen of Scots artifacts, including a bit of needlework depicting kittens.

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Day 5 didn’t happen. Oops. Well, it happened—I taught, I napped, I drank horchata and ate pizza—and then I went to bed, forgetting all about my blogbligations (blobligations?). It was a good night. I’ve touched down on both coasts in the last few weeks— here’s a picture of my feet on a cliff in San Diego, where my lovely friend B. was wed— and, while getting away is good, being home feels luxurious right now.

Of course, that much time away from home means that my refrigerator contains some horrors as well as a good measure of guilt (in the form of lovely produce that I haven’t had time to prepare). After too many weeks, I finally got around to shelling and cooking a bag of cranberry beans from the farmers’ market— I love this Jamie Oliver recipe for “humble beans.” Speaking of Jamie, I was quite cross to find my DVR devoid this morning of any new episodes “Jamie at Home”— apparently, AT&T has not been able to negotiate a new contract with Cooking Channel and Food Network. It’s enough to make me think of cutting back my cable package.

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Poetry and Owls

Oops, I bought some owls. October has been a productive month for me so far… in some ways.

I finally finished Wolf Hall; I ordinarily move through books pretty quickly (or else I could hardly be a Victorianist), but this one stalled me for a number of weeks. It was a slow read, in a good way. Unsurprisingly, a Booker Prize winner makes a terrible gym read; I’ve been stuck with wrinkled, abandoned copies of US Weekly lately, because I am utterly incapable of reading two books at the same time. I finally remembered that I’ve been meaning to read The History of Love when I stumbled upon a copy of it on the heaped high tables of discount books at Costco; I started reading it on the plane this weekend, fell in love, and then left it in my mom’s car. Hopefully, my book and I will be reunited soon.

I traveled this past weekend to exotic Newark, NJ for the Dodge Poetry Festival; we stayed with Ricky’s parents and met up with my mom, who was also in town for four intense days of poetry. I’ve gone to the Dodge, which is biennial, every two years since 2002; I never could have imagined that I would sit for ten hours of poetry in a muddy tent, or that I would excitedly chase after the autographs of poets to add to my now impressive collection of signed volumes. I missed the transcendent setting of the last festival. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center is surprisingly lovely, but I missed the more casual, outdoor events of the past; it was too hard this year to wander from poet to poet without fuss. The manicured setting also lacked some of the spontaneity that made the previous events so memorable— I can’t remember if we actually heard a bat during Mark Doty’s reading of “Pipistrelle,” but it certainly seemed possible. And that sense of possibility is so important to the Dodge, and to poetry.

I’m teaching poetry this week— perfect timing. I’m going to play a clip of Billy Collins reading “Hangover” for my students.

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Tintern Abbey

Though absent long,

These forms of beauty have not been to me,

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration:

—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As may have had no trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man’s life;

His little, nameless, unremembered acts

Of kindness and love.

(from William Wordsworth, “LINES Written a Few Miles Above TINTERN ABBEY, on revisiting the banks of the WYE during a tour, July 13, 1798)

The first image in this post is a Claude Glass that you can find a few yards (not miles) above Tintern Abbey— lucky for me, a helpful Welsh Heritage employee overheard me confusing the Tintern Abbey gift shop cashier (yes, there’s a gift shop; no, I didn’t buy anything) with questions about a largish, ovalish mirror somewhere in the vicinity of the Abbey. She pointed it out— up the hill, in the gardens of a nearby hotel. The Claude Glass is supposed to help an artist (perhaps an amateur artist) frame a scene from nature for a drawing and better observe the forms and features of the landscape. Rather oddly, though, you have to stand with your back facing the landscape you wish to draw— so the most complete view of Tintern Abbey that I could capture in a single frame is that backwards, color-drained mirror image.

Unrelatedly, and somewhat unpoetically, one can have a rather excellent cream tea in the shadow of the Abbey. Or a jacket potato.

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Among the innumerable sites we visited across the Atlantic: Stonehenge. Perhaps it’s a bit generous to say that we visited it. Really, we accidentally passed by it on the way to our rented cottage somewhere in the general vicinity of Bath. I spotted it as we were coming down a hill— “Is that Stonehenge?”— I asked, half-wondering, half-exclaiming. Ricky laughed— of course it was Stonehenge. How many henges could there be? I feel like there might be more than we expect; even so, it was an astounding thing to stumble upon. The best that I can usually hope to find on one of my long drives is a Target or a Dunkin’ Donuts. One moment, the landscape was a beautiful and unrelenting expanse of hills and sheep— then all of a sudden, it was broken by this passing glimpse. It was just enough henge for me, really. Quite perfect.

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During our trip to England, I got a chance to do some follow-up research on one of my life goals: to own a piece of cauliflowerware and/or pineappleware, which I first encountered in one of my minor courses last year. I know: aim high.

Cauliflower tureen, about 1760-1765 (Ashmolean Museum). I prefer the teapots, but this tureen has an appeal of its own. I like how they apparently tried to make it a little classier with the addition of butterflies. It’s a little too cute for me.

No so cutesy: cauliflowerware and pineappleware in the British Museum (also probably ca. 1765, school of Thomas Whieldon). These are the emblematic pieces of a short-lived craze for naturalistic serving wares. This picture doesn’t really capture the surface detail and colors of the pieces— they’re almost grotesque in real life. The popularity of these items subsided within the decade; basically, these were the Beanie Babies of the 1760’s. Potteries like Whieldon’s shipped the resulting surplus across the Atlantic to the captive audience of the Colonies, where the fad enjoyed a brief revival.

A curiosity cabinet in the British Museum, containing teapots and tureens as well as some Sloaniana — items from the foundational collection of Sir Hans Sloane, who bequeathed his antiquities, manuscripts, and vegetable lamb to George II so that they could become the property of the British people, and so that people like me could continue to enjoy the truly bizarre experience of facing down a room filled with shells, framed papercuts, stuffed birds, teapots, and a rock that apparently looks like Chaucer. I saw the rock. I still don’t have any idea if it looks like Chaucer.

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so much for july

July was a busy month. I’ve been jet-lagged for most of August, trying to recover from my insane return-trip itinerary (fly standby, London to Dulles; Dulles to Newark; drive Newark to PA, PA to WI) and the kind of household chores that materialize during a month-long absence from one’s home. My many travels were wonderful, exhausting, and filled with all kinds of THINGS. Really. Cauliflowerware, a stuffed dodo, giant cement dinosaurs, a rock that looks like Chaucer—it was my kind of trip. Maybe I’ll blog about some of them soon. I’ve only just gotten around to uploading some of the pictures—I’m missing about a week in the middle when my camera battery died and I took over Ricky’s for a while. Then I worked up the nerve to use our cheap-o adapter and got my camera back, just in time for hairy coos:

And now, a somewhat less-inspiring landscape. My backyard:

Ricky said that this looks like a “canary dissection.” It seems that Goddess and I had two parallel problems: me, too much jewelry and nowhere to put it; she, an unwanted place for putting jewelry. I saved this jewelry chest from the jaws of the crane during Saturday’s moving madness and spent most of the afternoon inhaling five cans of spray paint. It’s pretty hard to get from dark-stained wood to bright yellow—I had to drive to a neighboring town to get more spray paint after I exhausted the supplies at my local hardware store. I wonder what they thought I was up to….probably nothing this mundane.

I’m pretty happy with this transformation. I should really have taken a before picture, but this was the kind of project that was either going to happen rightthisminute or never. It’s not perfect, but it’s done!

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Ricky and I made a trip north last week, to the Twin Cities. There were lots of things to love about Minneapolis and St. Paul—Victorian houses (so many turrets!), flour mill signs along the riverfront, a truly wonderful meal in the shadow of an oddly beautiful industrial neighborhood (local spring pea risotto with mint, flourless chocolate cake, and some of Ricky’s tagliatelle with fava beans), tall buildings and a return to flânerie—and, if nothing else, I feel like my comprehension of Prairie Home Companion continues to grow by leaps and bounds during my tenure in the Upper Midwest.

We spent one day of our trip walking across Minneapolis, from the river to the Walker Art Center. This bridge, which bears an untitled John Ashbery poem, was one of my favorite sights:

“It is fair to be crossing, to have crossed. Then there is no promise in the other. Here it is. Steel and air, a mottled presence, small panacea and lucky for us. And then it got very cool.”

While I have come to a better understanding of Garrison Keillor over the last few years, Ashbery still eludes me. I like the bit about the mottled presence. In our case, as we walked, “it got very hot.”

Sweltering, by the time we reached “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” another one of my favorite sights.

I don’t know what this means, either, but I like it.

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